Concert review

Martin Roscoe (piano)

20th November 2017

INVITATION TO THE DANCE

It is 21 years since Penrith Music Club acquired its Steinway grand piano with the aid of a National Lottery grant. Martin Roscoe was generous with his time and expertise at that stage and gave the first recital on the new piano. It was a great pleasure to welcome him back in a recital which celebrated “Music for the Dance” in a programme of great versatility and imagination.

A great 19th century favourite, Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, made an exhilarating start to the evening with its glittering evocation of dancers at a ball. Bach’s French Suite no.6 followed, its stylised dances marked by beautiful phrasing and delicate ornamentation, a highlight being the imitation between the hands in the final Gigue. Beethoven’s only Polonaise followed, rarely heard but pointing the way convincingly towards the dramatic Polonaises of Chopin twenty years later.

Schubert’s German Valses, a set of 16 short and elegant miniatures, subtly contrasting in their style and designed to be played as a unit, created a sparkling portrayal of the style and atmosphere of the Viennese Waltz. Almost a century later Ravel was inspired by Schubert to write his own Valses Nobles et Sentimentales. These pieces are typical of the Impressionist sound world of French music of the early 20th century, with constantly shifting moods – from alluring to acerbic, haunting to exotic, reflective to exuberant - and occasional glimpses of the quixotic charm of French café music of the period. Martin Roscoe moulded all these different elements into a performance of persuasion and artistry that was one of the highlights of the evening.

A group of dances from Eastern Europe followed. Two Polkas by Czech composers showed how this traditional folk dance evolved over almost a century. Smetana’s Polka in A minor offered a basic simplicity, embellished by some florid right hand textures as the music progressed, while Martinu’s Polka showed a percussive, brusquer approach. Two Mazurkas by the Polish composer Szymanowski followed, the first light and airy, the second dark and brooding, these mid -20th century works, like the Martinu Polka, showing a less obvious dance contentthan those of a century before.

The recital ended with a feast of music by Chopin. The Mazurka in A minor is filled with longing for his Polish homeland, its poignant opening theme later treated with the melodic elaboration that is such a feature of Chopin’s style: the performance reflected the intensity and darkness of the composer’s thoughts. The Polonaise in A♭ major, in contrast, is one of Chopin’s most majestic creations, its heroic character powerfully etched in passages posing immense technical demands on the player. Martin Roscoe’s stirring performance matched both the mood and the challenges of this epic work. Two Chopin waltzes were to follow as encores, the Waltz in C# minor offering exquisite phrasing and the subtlest of dynamics, and the Waltz in A♭ major the nimblest of fingerwork.

The idea of basing a programme around one particular genre of music is growing in popularity and worked well: the choice of music was imaginative and varied. Martin Roscoe’s playing throughout showed the standard of artistry and musicianship we have come to expect from such an accomplished pianist.

Colin Marston



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